Anthony Francis Butala (born November 20, 1940*) is an American singer. He was the lead singer of the vocal group The Lettermen since 1958, although he has been retired since 2019. Butala is the last surviving of the original three members. The Lettermen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February 2020.
Butala was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, of Croatian descent, the eighth of eleven children of Mary Ann (Ference) and John George Butala. He spent much of his early years on a farm owned by his grandparents, enjoying a rural upbringing which included deer hunting. Butala said in a radio interview that hunting in those days was done more out of survival, rather than sport as it is today. He shot his first deer at the age of 12.
|Robert Mitchell Boys Choir|
Butala began his professional singing career in 1948, when he appeared on "Starlets on Parade", a Saturday morning show on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. He quickly became a favorite in and around his hometown of Sharon during his pre-teen years. In 1951, Butala's mother, who was a nurse, was called to California to assist her sister, who had been stricken with pneumonia and needed assistance with her children while she recovered. Butala's father, believing that there could be opportunities for his son on the West Coast, suggested that Tony accompany his mother to California, where he joined the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir and performed with the choir through 1954. His notable works during this period included providing the singing voice for Lost Boy Slightly in the Disney animated film Peter Pan (1953).
Butala's tenure with the boys' choir ended as his voice naturally changed as he entered his teen years. However, Mitchell, retained him as assistant choir director and paid for his private education as he continued his show business career. As a teenager, Butala sang with a quartet called "The Fourmost", which included Concetta Ingolia, who would later be known as Connie Stevens. Though the group would later disband, for Tony, it laid the foundation of what would become known as The Lettermen.
The first unofficial incarnation of The Lettermen came in 1958, with Butala, Mike Barnett, and Talmadge Russell, who would later be replaced by Jerry Paul. That same year, Gary Clark and Jimmy Blaine followed, and that combination made its first recording, but it was not successful. Butala tried again with two new singers, Bob Engemann and Jim Pike. This lineup brought the group its first success, as The Lettermen scored their first Top 40 hit at #13 on the US charts in 1961 with "The Way You Look Tonight". This cover of a 1936 song went gold in the U.S. The Lettermen's pop music chart success ended in 1969, but they continued to record and appear live in concert since then, and continue to enjoy success. In 1961, The Lettermen started performing live concerts, doing over 200 shows a year, an unbroken string that continues to the present.
Over the decades, the group has had various line-ups, replacing members who left for various reasons with new people to maintain a trio. Tony Butala has stated that the group ethos is that of three strong soloists that harmonize, and that the group encourages individual singing and songwriting. Butala has stated that the combination of himself, Donovan Tea (38 years) and Bobby Poynton (16 years) "is the best combination of voices, and best sounding group since the original trio." Butala also said this of the previous line-up of himself, Tea, and Mark Preston (11 years), thus highlighting the high standard of vocalists The Lettermen always had. This is also evident in the addition of Rob Gulack to the group in 2019 as Butala eased into retirement.
On December 9 and 10, 2012, The Lettermen Society Convention was held at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The members had dinner and breakfast with the current group of Tony Butala, Donovan Tea, and Bobby Poynton. They attended the soundcheck and Lettermen Holiday Show with ticketed audience members in the casino showroom. This celebration was the 31st annual convention.
Bob Engemann died at age 77 in Provo, Utah on January 20, 2013 of complications from heart bypass surgery. Jim Pike died from complications of Parkinson's disease on June 9, 2019, at his home in Prescott, Arizona. He was 82. Tony retired from the Lettermen in 2019 and spends much of his time in his home town of Sharon, Pennsylvania, overseeing the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened its doors in 1998. He also has been developing his 40 acre vineyard in Napa Valley since 1987.
Butala married the former Judith Ann Blaskovich in 1969. The marriage ended in divorce, but both remained friendly until Judith's death in a car accident on October 10, 2006, one day after her 60th birthday. Together they had four children: Anthony, Rebecca, Lisa and Regina, and five grandchildren.
(Edited from Wikipedia & IMDb) (* some sources give birth year as 1939)